There was no star label pinned on Monta Ellis when he was an eighth-grader.
"He wasn't the best player in the city," Lanier (Jackson, Miss.) basketball coach Thomas Billups said. "But he made major improvements in his game when he played with older athletes at summer camps and on our varsity team as a freshman. Then I knew he could be special."
Indeed. After a record-setting, four-year high school career at Lanier, the slender 6-foot-3 Ellis was a second-round NBA draft pick out of high school by Golden State in 2005.
This season, the fifth-year Warrior is averaging a team-best 26 points per game and could be headed to the All-Star Game.
"Monta was always working to improve himself," Billups says. "He lived near the high school gymnasium and was always at the games or practicing on his own. He was our varsity team ball boy before his freshman year and grew up with the sport.
"We had a shooting machine, The Gun, which Monta all but wore out with his long hours of practice," Billups adds.
In the summers of his youth, Ellis played on a Billups-coached traveling team, the Magnolia Stars. When it was time for Ellis to join Lanier's varsity team as a freshman, he immediately made an impression by leading the Bulldogs to a state championship.
His shooting exploits and flare for the game resulted in a sign being placed near the entrance to the school gymnasium. It read "The Greatest Show on Hardwood -- Monta Ellis."
As a senior, Ellis led Lanier to its second state crown in four years, averaging 38.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 4.5 steals per game for a team that finished 35-2 and No. 3 in the FAB 50 national rankings.
Ellis exploded for 72 points against Greenwood (Greenwood, Miss.), a mark tied for second on the all-time state charts. He also scored 46 points against FAB 50 No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). No player, not even two-time National Player of the Year LeBron James, had scored as many points against the Virginia prep school power.
Ellis led Lanier to four straight state title games and a four-year record of 129-16. He finished ranked second in state history with 4,167 points, good for 28.7 points per game.
For his efforts, Ellis was named 2005 EA SPORTS National Player of the Year and PARADE co-Player of the Year with 7-foot junior Greg Oden of Lawrence North (Indianapolis, Ind.).
Not bad for a skinny, former ball boy.